We awaken this morning in a world that is a little less stable and even more unpredictable than it was just a day ago.
It is not often that the New York Times headlines lead with a political story from another part of the world. But, this morning the NYT headline screams:
In his cogent and chilling opinion piece in the New York Times this morning, journalist Roger Cohen warns that:
The colossal leap in the dark that a traditionally cautious people — the British — were prepared to take has to be taken seriously. It suggests that other such leaps could occur elsewhere, perhaps in Trump’s America. A Trump victory in November is more plausible now because it has an immediate precedent in a developed democracy ready to trash the status quo for the high-risk unknown.
Cohen summarizes the results of yesterday’s vote saying,
Fifty-two percent of the British population was ready to face higher unemployment, a weaker currency, possible recession, political turbulence, the loss of access to a market of a half-billion people, a messy divorce that may take as long as two years to complete, a very long subsequent negotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and the tortuous redrafting of laws and trade treaties and environmental regulations — all for what the right-wing leader Nigel Farage daftly called “Independence Day.” Britain was a sovereign nation before this vote in every significant sense. It remains so. Estrangement Day would be more apt.
The root of this “Estrangement Day” according to Cohen is what he calls, the rise of a “wave of nativism and anti-establishment rage.”
Nativism is “the political position of preserving status for certain established inhabitants of a nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants.”
The apocalyptic voices warning of dire consequences to Europe’s departure from the EU may be over-stated. But, there can be no doubt that the self-concern of “certain established inhabitants of a nation” to protect their own interests above the needs of others, combined with “anti-establishment rage,” is indeed a toxic brew that must not be taken lightly.
This is my generation’s failure. My generation must take responsibility for the fact that we are the ones who created an institutional culture in which Brexit and Donald Trump became possible.
Those of us who have spent the past three or four decades in organizational leadership have failed to create institutions with a compelling vision of unity. We have been unable to offer a version of human community with the capacity to transcend narrow, myopic self-interest. We have participated in establishing a world order that is deteriorating into smaller and smaller units of egocentrism. We have overseen communities in which altruism and compassion have become increasingly rare commodities and self-absorbed nationalism have become the currency of the day. We have created a culture of self-absorbed exclusivism that carries a dangerous scent of violence and zealotry.
Those of us who are in the waning years of our leadership in the established institutions of our society need to ask ourselves some serious questions this morning.
What is it about the institutions we have led that have caused a rise in “nativism and anti-establishment rage”?
What part have we played in creating an environment that is eager to celebrate “Estrangement Day”?
And, of course most important of all, we need to ask what contribution we might have to point a more hopeful way forward as we prepare to pass leadership on to a new, hopefully more enlightened generation of leaders.
What might we do to make it possible for the institutions we have guided to experience a renewal of openness, gentleness, and kindness in the face of all those forces currently pulling in the opposite direction?
How can we offer the human community a compelling vision today of unity, altruism, and compassion?